Some public school parents are seizing an opportunity to register their kids in a tuition-free virtual summer school at a private school eager to help students who are struggling because of the now year-old pandemic.

Hanahauoli School, a $23,340 a year private school in Honolulu serving pre-K through sixth grade, is offering a tuition-free, five-week program for second through fifth graders enrolled in public schools.

It’s the second year of the program, which debuted last summer “in direct response to the critical community needs” with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and disruption to student learning, the school said. But Hanahauoli broadened access this year by doubling capacity to 96 slots, with priority given to kids demonstrating financial need.

Hanahauoli Head of School Lia Woo.
Hanahauoli Head of School Lia Woo says it’s important “for kids to be able to connect with others and find the joy in learning.” Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2021

“It’s definitely remediation, but we recognize that what is most important is for kids to be able to connect with others and find the joy in learning,” said Lia Woo, head of school at Hanahauoli.

The school called it the “only elementary level summer bridge program of its kind in Hawaii” that offers reading, writing, math, and a social, emotional and wellness curriculum, according to a news release.

The DOE student tuition waiver for the summer program — which is also open to enrolled Hanahauoli School students but at a cost of $1,100 — was made possible through a donation from a local family, Woo said. She declined to identify the family or give the amount of the grant per the donor’s request.

The concept of a private school-public school crossover program isn’t totally new in Hawaii.

Punahou School offers a rigorous tuition-free summer school for eligible Department of Education students starting in sixth grade that continues through their senior year. Known as the PUEO Program, it began in 2005 and in 2015 received an additional $6 million to sustain itself over the next decade.

But the pandemic has laid bare stark advantages in access for private school students versus public schoolers, including an earlier return to in-person classes.

That makes a summer learning program targeted to younger public school students who might not otherwise get the chance to participate in a thoughtfully crafted online learning space very attractive to some parents.

“It was just a consistent structure,” said Megan Minotti, whose then-kindergartener participated in Hanahauoli School’s summer program last year, when capacity was limited to 42 kids. “I feel it had made up for some of the things she had missed out on in quarter four.”

Minotti, a vice principal at Honokaa High and Intermediate School on Hawaii island, said her daughter, now in first grade at Waimea Elementary, was initially shy during the virtual sessions, reluctant to turn on the video or take herself off the mute function.

But by the end of the five-week course — which had students from three islands spanning 23 DOE and public charter schools — she was joking freely with teachers and her peers.

“I really appreciated it was high quality and inclusive,” Minotti said.

Bonnie Parker, whose third grader Ezra also participated last year, said “he came into the year with more confidence” and it made him less wary about starting this academic year online at Oahu’s Sunset Elementary.

According to Hanahauoli school leaders, students will be divided into eight groups of 12, combining second with third graders and fourth with fifth graders. No pre-entry testing is required, but the program is first-come, first-served for DOE families who show documentation of free and reduced lunch eligibility. Unfilled spots go to other DOE families on the waitlist.

The eight staff who will lead the program include a teacher who is a regular faculty member at the school, plus two DOE teachers and recent graduates of the University of Hawaii Manoa College of Education. This year, the school also added a curriculum design team to shape the lesson plans for the teachers.

“It was just a wonderful opportunity to spend more time to reflect on the program last summer and recognize that teachers right now are really busy and really tired,” Woo said. “We thought we could engage a smaller group and have a longer timeline to develop a curriculum.”

Hanahauoli School using some covered areas as classrooms due to the COVID pandemic.
Hanahauoli School, located in Makiki, is using some covered areas as classrooms due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2021

The half-day program, which will run from June 21 through July 23, is based around the school’s mission of “child-centered education” and the idea that “learning is social,” according to Woo. The theme for this summer’s bridge program will be “Connecting in Our Changing World: Studying Myself and How I Relate to Others.”

The curriculum will include a “multi-sensory reading and writing approach” that incorporates games, music and art; building literacy and math skills through games and problem-solving; mindful wellness through “movement experiences” that include yoga and supporting healthy family relationships; and “joyous work,” or play-based and creative activities, according to the school’s materials.

“That’s so important to us as a progressive school, that we respond to what’s happening in the world,” Woo said. “We feel that children would really benefit from this opportunity to learn and grow and connect with others. We hope that we can make a difference.”

To participate, students must have a computer that supports video conferencing, reliable internet, headphones, a quiet place to take the class and “a functional understanding of online communication,” according to the program guide.

Denise Mazurik, who teaches Global Scholars Media at Waiakea Intermediate in Hilo, said she is eager to enroll her 9-year-old daughter, who’ll be in the fifth grade next year, after hearing about the program from a mailing list through teacher professional development classes at Hanahauoli.

When online registration opened at noon a week ago Thursday, Mazurik hopped on her phone during a lunch break to sign up but ended up on the waitlist.

“It’s just a great opportunity for kids to do school even for five weeks, just to engage them in a different way,” she said. “Some is ‘let’s get you up to speed on skills loss,’ then there’s the (social, emotional learning) piece.”

Woo said registration filled up within two hours Thursday and that there is, so far, “an extensive waitlist.”

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